Despite the Raiders losing season, many of the Oakland Raiders players saw individual success on a team that finished 2014 strong with three consecutive home victories to close out the year. That was reflected on Pro Football Focus’ All-AFC West Team as three Raiders cracked the list of players the well respected NFL statistical analysis website felt were the best at their positions in the tightly contested division.
Two of Reggie McKenzie’s offseason acquisitions made the list as offensive tackle Donald Penn and rookie linebacker Khalil Mack made the list while veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski was deemed as one of the division’s top special teamers. All deserving candidates in a AFC West division that featured teams with star players across the board with Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego all having strong seasons despite the Broncos surprisingly being the only playoff team out of the four.
"Tackles: Donald Penn (OAK) and Ryan Harris (KC)Penn did a solid job protecting Carr all year, finishing fifth in pass block grading for LTs. Harris had a volatile year but to his credit he almost always bounced back with a green grade after bad games.Linebackers: Brandon Marshall (DEN) and Khalil Mack (OAK)While his teammate Miller was the pass-rush specialist, Marshall found success dropping into coverage. He and Thomas Davis tied for the best coverage grade for 4-3 linebackers. Mack showed that not only can he rush the QB but he can also defend the run, making the third-most run stops this year.Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski (OAK)Janikowski finished sixth in overall grading among double-duty kickers (kickoffs and field goals)"
Penn making the list justifies Reggie McKenzie’s decision to move on from Jared Veldheer last offseason when the former Raiders offensive tackle simply wanted more money than he was worth in contract negotiations. Many questioned the decision to let one of the best players on the Oakland roster walk at the time, but Penn quickly silenced those critics by outperforming Veldheer for less money as the best left tackle in the AFC West in what proved to be one of McKenzie’s best free agency decisions during his general manager career.
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As for Mack there was little doubt that he wouldn’t be listed amongst the All-AFC West players by PFF as he earned top grades at outside linebacker all season from the website. One of the best run stoppers in the league at the position and a nearly unblockable pass rusher in just his first NFL season out of a mid-major program in Buffalo, Mack was one of the most loved players in the NFL by PFF and earned his spot as one of the best OLB’s in the division. Janikowski also bounced back in 2014, going from one of his worst statistical seasons in 2013 to back to his regular form as the top kicker in the AFC West as recognized by PFF.
Expect all three of these Raiders talents to make similar impacts in 2015 as things are looking up for the franchise that has spent the past few years rebuilding. Getting recognized by the PFF team as having three of the division’s best players in important positions such as left tackle and outside linebacker only shows that the nucleus of talent assembled by Reggie McKeznie is getting strong enough to compete. Time will tell if that results in a winning season next year, but with plenty of cap space and talent already in place, the Raiders are in a much better position than they were last January when looking at the roster as evidenced by players such as Mack/Penn playing at a high level last season.